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Screwing Up My Kids

In all my years of receiving therapy, there is one psychologist who stands out in my mind…and not in a good way.

She was an empathic woman who immediately helped me feel at ease. She certainly had a way of helping me feel warm and comforted and understood, and I almost always felt better after our sessions.

But after a few months, I came to a startling realization.

She never made anything my fault.

Now, I know that depression is a disease — an illness with symptoms and consequences that are not always under my control. And I am fully aware that not everything bad in my life is my fault.

But I do know that some of it is.

And I know that I must own up to those flaws and mistakes. Otherwise, how would I ever grow and learn and get better?

It made me even sadder to realize that she almost always seemed to place the blame on my parents. How they put so much responsibility on me, even at a young age. Our emigration to a new country at such a formative period in my life. Their first-generation immigrant mentality of “you can achieve and obtain anything with hard work and discipline.” So on and so forth.

my family, circa 1985

I switched therapists not long after. But coming to this conclusion did plant some seeds in my mind: mainly, DID my parents screw me up?

Because it’s an undeniable fact that your parents have a huge influence on your life, right? And in raising me the way that they did, did they make me this way? Did they contribute to my struggles with depression and anxiety? If so, how much, and to what extent?

Pondering these questions led to my contemplating my current position, as a parent myself. I know that every parent gets scared that they will screw up their kids in some way, but I became even more paranoid. I began to wonder if even a passing comment to which I hardly give a thought can leave deep psychological scars in my children. And yes, I became convinced that Claire and Aerin were doomed to unhappy and unfulfilled lives as a result of their mother’s pitfalls and shortcomings.

Oh geez, why did I ever choose to become a parent???

That’s when a wise friend stepped in. “Oh yes, you will screw up your kids,” he said.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was just about to tell him to go screw himself, when he went on to clarify.

“You will screw them up. All parents screw up their kids. My parents did it to me, and your parents did it to you. It’s how you teach your kids to deal with the screwups and unfairness and all the other big bads of the world that makes all the difference.”

My mouth dropped open.

What my friend told me that day still stands as one of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received.

And I still turn to it, especially in these dark days when there seems to be no light in sight and I feel as if I am dragging my entire family into my black hole of gloom.

I hope others will find it helpful too. :-)